We used to study teachers’ clothing, back in college, in the fifties. I remember my calculus instructor; he was Chinese and wore the same tie every day of the semester. I’d wonder if there was any part of the universe that could be predicted with the accuracy of that man’s tie. But I always had the lingering feeling that as soon as I said yes, Dr. Chen will have on his red tie on Wednesday, then he’d have a birthday and someone would give him a blue tie, and he’d wear it out of courtesy to the giver. Then my prediction would be wrong. I’d have decided the world would be a certain way, and Dr. Chen, by deciding what his world was going to be like on Wednesday, would have falsified my perception. Slowly, by studying his tie, I came to realize that you don’t predict futures; you make them.
Dr. Chen and I parted company many years ago. Now I am in his place, and she in mine. I spend no small amount of time wondering what she, and hundreds of others like her, think of me. Do they view me as an obstacle, one more flickering image, a figure with a microphone in their video clip world, an ephemeral experience on their way to . . . to where? Did Dr. Chen know how I used him, what he eventually taught me? Perhaps. Today, certainly, I remember the lesson of the tie far better than I remember his integral calculus.
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